The Next Battle: Revisions to North Carolina Science and Health Standards | Eastern North Carolina Now

    Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of the John Locke Foundation. The author of this post is Dr. Terry Stoops.

    In July, the N.C. State Board of Education approved the remaining supplementary materials accompanying revised social studies standards approved earlier this year. Barring intervention by the General Assembly, state education officials will begin assisting educators responsible for implementing the new social studies standards during the coming school year.

    The presumptive implementation of the new standards does not mean debate over the quality and content of social studies education in North Carolina is over. Republican lawmakers' laudable effort to address the teaching of Critical Race Theory in public schools signals the start of a sustained effort to monitor and strengthen the teaching of history, economics, and civics through legislative action. Moreover, courageous parents continue to demand that school boards use their statutory authority to prohibit classroom instruction and professional development informed by Critical Race Theory.

    But when it comes to education policy, there is no rest for the weary.

    At the June State Board of Education meeting, members approved a request to begin revisions of K-12 science and healthful living standards. State education officials established a tight timeline for the review and implementation of new standards in these subjects. Over the next nine months, state Department of Public Instruction staff will publish drafts of the revised standards and gather input from educators and the public. They anticipate state board approval in the spring or summer of 2022 and the initial installation launched in the fall of that year.

    Traditionally, science instruction in elementary and secondary schools focused on teaching children about practical applications of the scientific method and the essential concepts used in the physical and life sciences. But even science is not immune to the influences of Critical Race Theory. For example, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson's Fairness and Accountability in the Classroom for Teachers and Students Task Force received a complaint from a parent concerned about a "how whiteness is a problem in science" assignment in a high school chemistry class. As they contemplate revised science standards, members of the State Board of Education may decide if woke assignments will become the exception or the rule.

    Debates over the social studies and science standards may pale in comparison to those related to new healthful living standards. The authors of the revised standards will be tasked to create a framework for discussing some of the most contentious issues in contemporary public discourse: sex and gender.

    How will standards writers require teachers to depict the concept of biological sex? It has become commonplace to substitute the term "assigned sex" to accommodate individuals who do not physically or emotionally identify with their biological sex.

    Reorienting the standards to focus on assigned sex would necessitate LGBTQ-inclusive sex education with lessons on gender identity, gender expression, transgenderism, and gender nonconformity.

    New Jersey, Colorado, Oregon, Illinois, Nevada, and California have passed laws related to LGBTQ-inclusive instruction in public schools. For example, the California state legislature approved The California Healthy Youth Act in 2016. That legislation requires that teachers "affirmatively recognize that people have different sexual orientations and, when discussing or providing examples of relationships and couples, shall be inclusive of same-sex relationships." The legislation also requires educators to discuss "gender, gender expression, gender identity, and explore the harm of negative gender stereotypes." California parents may request that their child not participate in state-approved sexual health education and HIV prevention education.

    I suspect that opt-out provisions will not be enough to satisfy parents who object to LGBTQ-inclusive instruction in the first place. Alternatively, the LGBTQ community may contest healthy living standards that, they believe, fail to describe the nuances of sex and gender. If standards writers cannot craft standards that satisfactorily address the concerns of both groups, then North Carolinians may witness larger tears in the state's social, political, and cultural fabric.

    This article first appeared in the August/September issue of Carolina Journal.
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